The Wrath of the Social Customer


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It really was their fault – and eventually they admitted it – but it took an angry tweet to get them to notice.

The connection for my second flight was not that tight – one hour and 10 minutes. I left the office feeling pretty good about the travel home. As we began to board flight number one, I noticed that the customer service rep was having some problems with the ticket scanner. Boarding early has its privileges, but I wondered why it was taking so long for everyone else to board. 25 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes… I began to look at my watch wondering about my second flight. Then the customer service rep took the plane microphone and began to ask for people to ring their flight-attendant bell when she called out their names. It seems that more than 20 people had checked in at the gate, but they could not verify if they were actually on the plane.

One hour and 30 minutes late, the plane finally pulled away from the gate. Needless to say, I missed my second flight – got assigned to another flight 3 hours later, and to top it off my 6’3” frame was packed into a middle seat.

As an experienced flyer, I can understand that things break, and with just a little bit of proactive customer service, I would not be writing this article. But that was not the case. The airline has the data and with the right CRM system they could have easily sent me an email upon my arrival or the next day that said, “Hey, we messed up! And we are sorry.” They could have even thrown in 500 frequent flyer miles to make the midnight arrival a little less painful. But that did not happen.

So being the social guy that I am, I tweeted about my poor experience to the main Delta Twitter account and got no response! I had recently read an article about how one of their competitors had embraced social media, so the next day I tweeted on the Delta page again, with a link to the American Airlines success story. Within 30 minutes I received a response. From that point on, the level of service was wonderful. The agent asked me to send a DM (direct message) via Twitter with my reservation number. Within 10 minutes she responded back via DM apologizing for the situation and offering me 3000 SkyMiles as restitution.

As a customer service consultant, I am always looking for a story and always analyzing possible improvement. I think my experience on Delta illustrates four larger developments in customer service:

  1. Social Media has become a very effective channel for customer service and has given the customer much more power. Public view of a problem gives the situation a certain amount of urgency and the customer much more control.
  2. Delta could have avoided the need for my public tweet by developing proactive customer service that takes responsibility for bad experiences that are really their fault.
  3. My initial tweet had several responses from followers about their similar problems with Delta. People really are listening and the brand really is affected via social media.
  4. If your company does not have a proactive way to view posts and deal with unhappy customers, you are losing business right now!

My story ends with the following tweet:

Now, imagine the impact a positive follow-up post can have on your customers.

To illustrate this principle, we’re giving free Delta Airlines drink tickets to the first 100 people to follow us and share this blog post on Twitter with the hashtag #DeltaDrinks, mentioning @Bluewolf and @bobfurniss

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Bob Furniss
Bob Furniss' career has focused on improving customer experiences. As the Director of Bluewolf's Service Cloud practice, Bob leads a team of consultants who works with clients in three key areas: Salesforce Service Cloud strategy/implementation; Social Media strategy and implementation in the contact center; and creating vision blueprints to help companies set a new course for their contact centers in the areas of people and technology. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Bob –

    Your blog is an excellent illustration of both the power and growing influence of social media and the consequences of passive, even grudging service and communication. Companies are beginning to learn, sometimes the hard way as in your Delta experience, that proactive customer relationships generate stronger image and reputation, along with higher profits, than reactive relationships.

    Alienation, and even sabotage, are the opposite of customer advocacy; and, through our targeted research approaches, we have been able to identify both the prioritized drivers of negative behavior along with prescriptives for reducing and eliminating ‘badvocacy’ altogether. I endeavored to explain this in a CustomerThink blog last year:

    Michael Lowenstein, Ph.D., CMC
    Executive Vice President
    Market Probe (

  2. Thanks Michael – I will be sure to check it out… The power is in the response and that requires listening with a plan and a purpose. Technology like Radian6 provides a powerful tool to listen and engage in real time – with the contact center “owning” the interaction.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Bob –

    There are issues of real measurement and interpretation for Radian6, now owned by Salesforce, and the other text mining/analytics and web harvesting compines, such as Clarabridge and NetBase (the firm Market Probe uses). They involve going beyond positive and negative segment and looking at the real impact of experiences on downstream customer behavior. That is where segmentation and analysis through targeted advocacy research enters the picture. It enables internal groups such as customer service to understand, and act on, the real-world effect of experiences such as you encountered with Delta. This article might be of interest:



  4. Bob
    You make a really relevant point that your airline knows how many premium travellers are on a plane – why can’t they be proactive? It’s not like the technology won’t allow for this.

    It’s still disappointing that you have to take to Twitter to get a response – clearly there is a long way to go for major companies to understand how they need to adapt their service models – it would appear that moving from reactive to proactive is harder than we realise?

    One final point re airlines and Twitter – I noted recently that Qantas in Australia is moving away from the DM model (with it’s stupid 140 char limit) and directs Twitter users to a specific landing page where they capture critical information such as Twitter account, FF number, and your issue (in 140+ char glorious detail). I can only assume this means they are routing this data into a CRM DB for later use?

    cheers Mark

  5. Mark – totally agree that it would be much better if airlines would proactively take care of my problem – but I am still glad that Delta is willing to engage me where I live. Yes the 140 characters is a pain – but contact center technology like Radian6’s Social Hub is allowing companies to engage and track interactions better. But the relevance of Twitter is tied to the old adage – you have to be where your customers are – and customers are on Twitter – and are more and more expecting that companies will respond based on their rantings (or happy postings). Thanks for reading and for the comment! Social is an ever changing world…and that’s what makes if fun for me…


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